Bingaman: 'Let's Not Backslide on Protecting Public Lands'

April 24, 2003
12:00 AM
"This week Americans celebrated Earth Day, asserting our commitment to preserving and passing on a beautiful world to our children. "Ironically, the Bush Administration just days earlier told Congress that it will no longer assess which public lands deserve to be protected as wilderness areas. This decision could significantly alter how millions of acres of public land across the country are managed. "In my view, this decision is a step backward in preserving America's great natural inheritance for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. Furthermore, it totally ignores public support for strong environmental and conservation measures. Wilderness can always be destroyed, but it cannot be created. "The Administration's decision to no longer perform wilderness reviews on federal land follows on the heels of another troubling Interior Department action (re: RS 2477) that could allow states to claim rights-of-way to thousands of miles of dirt roads, trails and wagon tracks, many of which are in national parks and wilderness areas. This proposal was developed in secret and presented as a final policy, without public comment and without reason or explanation. In light of the harmful impact it could have on our public lands, I have asked the Comptroller General for a legal opinion. I've also asked Secretary Norton not to implement this procedure until Congress has received that opinion."